Written by Ruth Behar, coeditor of Handmade in Cuba: Rolando Estévez and the Beautiful Books of Ediciones Vigía
In the era of the pandemic, as toilet paper and other products have disappeared from store shelves, and as people have needed to stand in line for food in the United States, the shortages and rationing that have long been a part of everyday life in Cuba no longer seem so foreign on this side of the ocean. Perhaps in such a moment, when it seems that life will never be the same again, our book, Handmade in Cuba, can offer an uplifting story and help us to build a stronger bridge of understanding between Cuba and the United States.
Bringing together creative writers and multidisciplinary scholars, our anthology explores how beautiful books came to life in Cuba with the simplest of supplies and a lot of creativity and ingenuity, creating a corpus of works that raises fascinating questions about the future of the book in the age of technology. The project of Ediciones Vigía began in the city of Matanzas in 1985 through the collaboration of two idealists: writer/editor Alfredo Zaldívar and poet/artist Rolando Estévez. They had an ambitious dream of merging literature and art, and independently releasing exquisite handmade editions of 200 copies of each book. Standing in contrast to mass-produced books offered by the Cuban government, the Vigía books—focusing on poetry, short fiction, and essays—would be both a delight to read and worthy of being displayed like works of art.
As the artistic designer, Estévez created exuberant designs that gave Ediciones Vigía a unique visual poetics which brought their bookmaking to the attention of the world. By the time Estévez left Ediciones Vigía in 2014 to establish his own imprint, El Fortín, he had designed over 500 books that established his reputation as one of the most exciting book artists of our time. The books included Cuban authors such as Dulce María Loynaz and Nancy Morejón, Latin American authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, and international authors, such as Kafka, Lorca, Szymborska, and Emily Dickinson. With the oil lantern, or quinqué, as its key symbol, Vigía came to represent a unique aesthetics that offered a humble but penetrating light in a time of uncertainty as Cuba moved forward in the 1990s and into the new century, seeking to maintain revolutionary goals while expanding tourism and private enterprise to stay afloat.
In the ten essays and an interview with Estévez that together make up our anthology, we hope to give readers, both those new to Vigía books, as well as those already familiar with their magic, the opportunity to experience the beauty of these texts with wonder and understanding.
Hover over the images to read more.
Praise for Handmade in Cuba
“A masterful integration of word and image that is a feast for the senses.”—Richard Blanco, presidential inaugural poet and author of How to Love a Country
“Handmade in Cuba transmits the generosity of the Vigía project and Rolando Estévez’s spirit”—Jacqueline Loss, author of Dreaming in Russian: The Cuban Soviet Imaginary
“A first-rate collection of stories, essays, and interviews that critically broach the accomplishments of Ediciones Vigía since its origins, underscoring its already prominent place in the Cuban cultural archive of the twenty-first century.”—Raúl Rubio, author of La Habana: cartografías culturales
Ruth Behar is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.